Cast or Cut Bait?

Knowing When to Run & Gun or Bait & Jig

By Captain Bobby Rice, Reel Deal Fishing Charters
BOBBY BEING BOBBY – Capt. Bobby Rice striking the pose he is best known for, with a fish on. Photo Courtesy Reel deal fishing charters

Cruising to the tuna fishing grounds just before sunrise, a steady binocular scan of the glowing horizon confirms that the barely detectable splashes are indeed tuna breaking the surface.  I control the natural reflex to hit the throttles, as I know a few moments studying the fish and the birds flurrying above them will save me from running into a less than optimal position and missing the best opportunity of the day. As my initial assessment suggests, the fish are moving northeast. We move in that direction, continuously observing and reacting to the ecological activity until we are within casting range of the busting finfare.

A variety of custom lures sing out; first from the VSX275, one of Van Staal’s bailless spinning reels, paired with the Van Staal 7’ 500 gram rod — my favorite casting setup. Casting continues amidst the activity, trying a slightly smaller lure to create better interest while maximizing the chance for a hook-up by dropping a couple rods down for vertical jigging. Despite persistent efforts, the topwater strike eluded us; but jigging a silver RonZ earned an adrenalized hook-up, followed by a few angler rounds on the reel–all leading to that jubilant finale of a forked tail on the deck.

While chasing and casting (or “run-and-gun”) tuna fishing style yields excitement, when producing inconsistent results or hindered by foggy conditions, the time arrives to read the handwriting in the sky and boost catch ratios by returning to targeting tuna with live bait and vertical jigging. For years this combination of techniques effectively generated bent rods, and some seasons it is necessary to go back to basics.

Fortunately, this past Fall live bait was plentiful, requiring only a modest effort to fill the bait well with mackerel before heading out to the favored fishing location. While casting for tuna provides you with the freedom to quickly pursue schools of tuna, drifting bait requires confidence and skilled decision-making. It requires you to choose a spot to put out your baits and stick with this choice. Now, just because you have baits out doesn’t mean you can’t move around, but the more time the baits are in the water the better.

Combine your assessment of the wind, current, and any visible bird and fish activity with the sonar screen to determine the depths for positioning the live baits.  Some days may demand one bait up high and in close while another is deployed deeper and farther out, and you should modify these locations throughout the trip as required while also diligently monitoring the baits for weeds and proper presentation.

With the live bait rods deployed, it’s time to pick up the vertical jigging setup as now the real workout begins! While metal jigs previously delivered reliable results, this particular season the RonZ soft plastic baits became the go-to lure as they consistently provided double hook-ups on both conventional and spinning gear well into prime fishing season in the Fall.

While it is good to have a favorite fishing technique, it is important to know when change is needed in order to stay on top of this ever-changing game!

On a final note, part of tuna fishing is responsibly releasing the fish you are not keeping. Recently we had the incredible experience of tagging and releasing bluefin tuna. Once released, the tuna transmit data for scientific research, which allows for a better understanding of the species and more effective management policies. It was gratifying to learn that the tuna we released survived and swam on, highlighting the importance of freeing the fish efficiently and carefully.